Monday, March 30, 2009

Party of torture

Obsidian Wings speculates that Gen. Petreaus may have ruined his chances of being a future GOP presidential nominee by coming out against former VP Cheney's pro-torture remarks.

Unlike some KOS folks, I don't find it at all surprising that Petreaus is against torture. You'd be hard pressed to find a senior US officer who believes otherwise.

But if it turns out to be true that the GOP will have a pro-torture litmus test in the future, then that party is in much more danger than I thought. It will indeed spend a very long time in the wilderness in that case, because Americans will not support a pro-torture party.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Playing with fire?

I guess these rich guys don't get it.

The vital point

Made by Andrew Sullivan while talking about the possible Spanish war crimes proscutions againts US lawyers, emphasis mine:

The lawyers are the beginning. Bush and Cheney are - and must be - the ultimate targets. They belong in jail. And there are no statutes of limitations on war crimes.


Interesting discussion of science and faith

Friday, March 27, 2009

GOP budget

Who knew it was so easy?

Drip, drip, drip. Yes, it was torture

Step by step, drip by drip, the torture regime is falling apart.

The latest blow is another former Bush administration lawyer who was involved with Gitmo saying that yes, it was torture and the administration's entire approach was misguided and borne of panic.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

WE did it

An impassioned plea from a posting at Daily Kos about the need for prosecutions on torture:

We did this, Americans did this, the eyes of the rest of the world.... YOU did this.
Rape. Torture. Murder. It is what Americans do. Unless we prove it isn't.
Unless YOU now make sure that WE investigate charge and try the people who authorized, ordered and carried out these acts... as YOUR government, in YOUR name, with YOUR money, by YOUR soldiers and intelligence agencies....YOU did this.
Because you are an American, and Americans did this.
And unless we do something about it, that IS the historical record. America did this. Not Bush or Cheney, America.
Right up to the day that we charge the individuals who did individuals.
Right up to the day we try the President and Vice-President who did this....NOT as Americans. Not as representatives of America. But as men. Men who have broken the law NOT in the name of every American. But in their own name.
Until these MEN are brought to justice and tried as War Criminals, these are not just their crimes as individuals who broke the law. These are ALL of OUR Crimes, as Americans.
The only way to clear YOUR name, to clear America's to charge, try, and convict George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld as men, as private individuals, who committed War Crimes NOT in our name, NOT with our consent, but in their own name, on their own abused authority.
Is their any greater crime, any greater sin possible, than to rape and torture a fellow human being to death? And yet this IS what we did.
As much as we seem to want to pretend we didn't.
Until the responsibility lies directly on the individuals who ordered these inhuman atrocities, then it lies with us, the People in whose name this was done. Until WE find THEM guilty, we are guilty. As Americans in an America that does torture.
Until we prove we don't. Through prosecuting those who did.
Until Justice is done. Or at least attempted, those who are not attempting it, US....
....Each Of Us Shares This Sin.

The whole thing here:,-Or-Each-Of-Us-Shares-This-Sin

"A deeply broken nation"

Greenwald. He's not succinct, but he generally gets around to making very damning points:

The key dynamic underlying all of this -- the linchpin that allows it all to happen and, historically, the primary hallmark of a deeply broken nation -- is the total elimination of the rule of law for the ruling class, with a simultaneous intensification of the law as a weapon against the citizenry. Does anyone expect there to be any widespread prosecutions for those most responsible for the looting, systematic fraud and grand-scale theft of the last decade? Identically, as more and more evidence emerges of the vast war crimes of the prior administration, the failure to enforce the law and our legal obligations against our nation's most powerful becomes even more transparent. As law professor Jonathan Turley put it on Rachel Maddow's show Monday night:
The president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy [Cheney] over whether it was good policy. . . .
It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There‘s no question about a war crime here. . . .
You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it. . . .
He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.
Contrast these desperate efforts to avoid any criminal accountability at all for the country's most powerful lawbreakers with the merciless application of criminal law to ordinary Americans. As
Brown University Glenn Loury recently wrote:
Simply put, we have become a nation of jailers and, arguably, racist jailers at that. The past four decades have witnessed a truly historic expansion, and transformation, of penal institutions in the United States — at every level of government, and in all regions of the country. We have, by any measure, become a vastly more punitive society. Measured in constant dollars and taking account of all levels of government, spending on corrections and law enforcement in the United States has more than quadrupled over the last quarter century. As a result, the American prison system has grown into a leviathan unmatched in human history.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

That unipolar moment didn't last long

Housing Doom reacts to news that China wants the world to consider a new reserve currency other than the US Dollar: After Wednesday’s festivities I’m confident that China has now made the opening gambit in its inevitable confrontation with America. The process will take a bit over 60 years and we might as well be civilized about it — since it’s going to take a while …

It was knowable

Daily Kos has a good post running down how the factors leading to today's financial woes were predicted.

It's like the cries that "No one could have predicted the levies would fail" in New Orleans. Of course the Weather Channel was doing the first episode of its then-new series "It Could Happen Tomorrow" about New Orleans and its vulnerability to hurricanes. It was the second most likely disaster (after a new SF earthquake -- how ready are we for THAT).

This "nobody could have predicted it" excuse is really lame.

Obama is boring

At least that's the meme on the Right.

What I don't get is how this is supposed to be a bad thing. Last year all they could talk about was how exciting Obama was and how his supporters were just being swept away with emotion. Back then that was supposed to be a bad thing.

Logically the Right should be happy that Obama is now boring.

Of course, logic has been banished from modern conservative discourse. It's far too inconvenient.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Gutfeld is gutless

A little-known conservative "comedian" named Gutfeld made a crack insulting the Canada and the Canadian armed forces (who have lost more troops in Afghanistan than any US ally) apparently doesn't have the balls to actually apologize when he says something stupid. That's evidently beneath his dignity, although apologizing is not beneath the dignity of the President of the United States (Special Olympics).

Are we ready for what we're going to find out?

More torture memos to be declassified that will be very embarrassing to the CIA, Newsweek reports.

What we already know is horrific enough, but the intel community is fighting so hard to keep the secret that one can only wonder how bad it must be.

And percolating in the background is the whole question of the secret surveillance program that was so objectionable that even John Ashcroft thought it went too far. And Ashcroft was OK with the torture. How bad will THAT news be, when (if?) we find out?

Maximal pain

Via Scott Horton, Alan Dershowitz on torture;


But I want more painful. I want maximal pain, minimum lethality. You don’t want it to be permanent, you don’t want someone to be walking with a limp, but you want to cause the most excruciating, intense, immediate pain. Now, I didn’t want to write about testicles, but that’s what a lot of people use. I also wanted to be explicit because I didn’t want to be squeamish about it. People have asked me whether I would do the torturing and my answer is, yes, I would if I thought it could save a city from being blown up.

Class warfare?

The rising economic inequality of the last few decades has been raising alarms in some quarters for quite some time, but a number of factors disguised it until recently.

Perhaps one of the most important was the entry of women into the workforce, which allowed most middle-class families to maintain a middle-class standard of living even though it took more hours of labor to do so. Women derived some benefits in self-actualization and independence from this trend, so it was not entirely unwelcome. But there was a natural limit on how far this could go.

A second factor disguising the inequality was the rise of Wal-Mart and other discounters and the ability to keep costs down by inports from China and other low-labor cost countries. It became possible to maintain the essentials of life at a lower cost.

A third factor was the rise in home values and the stock market rise, both of which made it seem as if people were building wealth (in home equity and 401k balances) even as they tapped out their savings and credit limits to maintain the middle class lifestyle they aspired to.

Not the fact that all this was built on sand and could not be sustained was recognized by some. There have been no shortages of Cassandras. But it was politically expedient to dismiss them and the rich and powerful could marshal a lot of resources to marginalize those voices.

But the market will, as it always will, eventually rule. And despite the fact that the rich and powerful pay lip service to the "Market" they don't really want the market to freely operate. What, after all, is the use of riches and power if it can't protect you from bad things?

Unfortunately one of the major parties lost sight of its responsibility to all the citizens and one of the major intellectual movements was hijacked by powerful interests to the point that timeless conservative principles such as rule of law and limited government were completely perverted to the point where "conservatives" would seriously argue for unlimited executive powers including the ability to disappear people, engage in torture and simply ignore Congress when the executive decided it was proper, and all of this without judicial review.

Well, it may very well be that the worm has turned.

There are people screaming that AIG's contracts are sacrosanct and that the government has no power to void them. Well, folks, if the government has the power to arrest you without charges, torture you to madness and detain you as long as it wants without trial, what chance do your little pieces of paper stand?


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Private prisons

One of the more damagaing fetishes that swept through conservatism the last couple of decades is the urge to privatize government functions as much as possible.

While attractive in principle for many supporting governmental functions that have private sector equivilents (fleet maintenance for example) I think it can lead to serious trouble when applied to core governmental functions. It's popular to say that government ought to be run like a buisiness, but that's only true in a limited sense. Private sector practices and innovations can be copied by the government when appropriate, but it's important to remember that the goal of a private activity is not the same as a government.

And some state functions are simply inappropriate ti delegate to private parties, especially those having to do with the state's coercive power. While armies, for example, can sometimes save money by using civilian contractor support, the closer to the firing line they are the less appropriate iot is. Likewise therre is a role for private security concerns, but the power to arrest people and use dealy force that we give police offciers can't legitimately be turned over to private parties. It's hard enough to exercise adequate control and protect people's rights when these are agents of the government, let alone private parties.

One core function thta I have alwayts felt was inmappropriate to turn over to private hands in incarceration. The incentives to abuse prisoners or neglect prisoners is too strong and the checks too weak. The prisomers have no power to remove themselves, by definition. I presume the "customers' of the prison system are the law-abiding citizens, but they are not affcted or even aware of the conditions and therefore market forces don't really apply. If there's no market then I dont see how a private sector solution makes sense.

And it turns out that actual experince shows that this is a problem.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monday, March 16, 2009


There are undoubtedly all sorts of legal and technical reasons why this AIG bonus situation is the way it is.

But there's also a political reality at work here, and if the government is going to retain the ability to act it's going to have to find a way to rein this crap in. Pitchforks and torches don't make good public policy but pushing the peasants' noses into the manure pile is a good way to provoke them.

As many have pointed out, blue collar workers' contracts have been far from sacrosanct in this crisis, I see no reason why white collar workers' contracts should be -- especially when the white collar workers in question (at AIG) played a direct role in causing the crisis, something that can't be said about folks like the autoworkers.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cheney re-emerges

I don't want to reward CNN's John King by watching his interview of VP Cheney, but fortunately there are some reporters who get paid to watch this sort of thing so I don't have to and here is a summary of what was said:,0,2699764.story

I guess it would be expecting too much for the previous administration to at least wait until the first 100 days go by before launching into partisan criticism of the new administration, but the Bush crowd was never much for observing customary restraints.

It's pretty disgusting for Cheney to criticize the abandonment of torture and other illegal behavior as making us less safe, but it's no surprise. But it's really rich to claim that Bush's policies were not to blame for the economic mess. I'm quite sure that if we were still sailing along in our blissful bubble that the Bush folks would be rushing to claim credit for it and saying that Obama was just coasting off their success.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Friday, March 13, 2009

Policeman doesn't tell the truth

I know, it's shocking.


Still, it's part of a pattern of disdain for First Amendment and other constitutional rights that seems to have become ingrained in law enforcement recently.

In this case (Details here:
a police officer's statement seems to claim that he didn't know that the "shiny metal object" in the priest's hands was a video camera even though the camera's videotape itself shows differently. I guess the priest should be thankful the police officer didn't decide the camera looked like a gun and that the officer was in "reasonable" fear of death or injury and needed to shoot him.

It's hard to fight off the cynicism.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

David Swenson, Yale investment guru

Interesting reading.

Sean Hannity, Christian torture supporter


Homegrown terror

It's highly likely that the next major terrorist attack in the US will come from home-grown sources. Before 9/11 the biggest terror attack was the Oklahoma City bombing, and even after 9/11 the most damaging terror attack -- the anthrax letters -- was almost certainly from a domestic source.

With the election of Barack Obama there's also a chance white supremacists will be revitalized. This story out of Maine is worrisome:

While it makes good TV dramas to show foreign terror cells made up of swarthy young men in our midst, real world experience suggest that real terrorists need to be able to blend into the population. They need to be able to case targets and approach without detection. Everywhere that's been afflicted with persistent terror, from Northern Ireland, to Israel, to Britain, India, Sri Lanka, Germany, etc. the terrorists are either native to the country or part of a large minority within the country that are a part of everyday life.

The 9/11 hijackers took advantage of the cosmopolitan nature of air travel and flaws in the screening system to make their attack. The attack also relied on surprise to succeed and anything like that is unlikely to succeed again. Indeed, any attack that relies on seizing control of a transport vehicle probably won't work now because passengers and crews now fight back.

Instead successful attacks in recent years have generally relied on infiltrating suicide bombers or assassins into crowds, which is obviously easier if the assassin can blend in.

Our next terror attacker may very well be some American.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We can be sure it will be worse than we thought

That's the one thing we can be sure about the extent of the Bush administration's use of torture.

The Daily Mail outlines the allegations of Binyam Mohammed here:

We have years of horrid revelations ahead of us.

What we already know for certain is enough to justify convictions under all sorts of international and domestic law under the same standards that have been applied to people from other nations as far back as World War II and as recently as Dafur.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Sense at Slate

Slate critiques the "War on the Rich" claim going around (with emphasis added my me:

It's hard to overstate how absurd these claims are. First, let's talk about the "massive increase in progressivity" that Gerson deplores. It consists largely (but not exclusively) of returning marginal tax rates to their levels of 2001, before Gerson and the epically incompetent Bush administration of which he was a part got their hands on the reins of power. Obama wants to let marginal rates for families with taxable income (not total income, but taxable income) of more than $250,000 revert from 33 percent to 36 percent, and to let the top rate—currently 35 percent on family income above $357,000—revert to 39 percent. (Here are the current tax tables.) There's also talk of capping—not eliminating, but capping—deductions on charitable giving and mortgage interest.
Obama's proposals don't mean the government would steal every penny you make above the $250,000 threshold, or that making more than $250,000 would somehow subject all of your income to higher taxes. Rather, you'd pay 36 cents to the government in income taxes on every dollar over the threshold, rather than 33 cents.
Second, this return to 2001's tax rates was actually part of the Bush tax plan. The Republicans who controlled the White House and the Republicans who controlled the Congress earlier this decade decreed that all the tax cuts they passed would sunset in 2010. They put in this sunset provision to hide the long-term fiscal costs of the cuts. The Bush team and congressional supporters had seven years to manage fiscal affairs in such a way that they would be able to extend the tax cuts in 2010. But they screwed it up. Instead of controlling spending and aligning tax revenues with outlays, the Bush administration and its congressional allies ramped up spending massively—on two wars, on a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, on earmarks, etc. Oh, and along the way, they so miserably mismanaged oversight of Wall Street and the financial sector that it required the passage of a hugely expensive bailout. Even before the passage of the TARP, the prospect of extending all the Bush tax cuts was a nonstarter. Once Bush signed the $700 billion bailout measure into law, extending tax cuts was really a nonstarter. The national debt
nearly doubled during the Bush years. So if you want to blame someone for raising taxes back to where they were in 2001, don't blame Obama. Blame Bush, his feckless Office of Management and Budget directors, his economic advisers, and congressional appropriators like Trent Lott and Tom DeLay.
Third, we know from recent experience that marginal tax rates of 36 percent and 39 percent aren't wealth killers. I was around in the 1990s, when tax rates were at that level, and when capital gains and dividend taxes were significantly higher than they are today. And I seem to remember that we had a stock market boom, a broad rise in incomes (with the wealthy benefitting handily), and strong economic growth.
Fourth, we also know from recent experience that lower marginal rates on income taxes, and lower rates on capital gains and dividends, aren't necessarily wealth producers. The Bush years, which had lower marginal rates and capital gains taxes, were a fiasco. In fact, if you tally up the vast destruction of wealth in the late Bush years—caused by foolish hedge funds, investment banks, and other financial services companies, it seems like the wealthy have in fact been waging war on one another.
Finally, there has been a near total absence of discussion of what higher rates will mean in the real world. Say you're a CNBC anchor, or a Washington Post columnist with a seat at the Council on Foreign Relations, or a dentist, and you managed to cobble together $350,000 a year in income. You're doing quite well. If you subtract deductions for state and property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable deductions, and other deductions, the amount on which tax rates are calculated might total $300,000. What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

John Cole's challenge

On claims that wanting the president to fail was just as common back when. Bring it on, he says:

And just so we are clear, until shown otherwise, what I remember is the following:
2001, time of mild economic downturn but with a large budget surplus projected as far as the eyes can see, and Democrats stated the tax cuts are bad policy and should not be adopted.
2009, during two wars, a financial disaster, an economic crisis and massive unemployment and trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, and the Republicans and Limbaugh are rooting for Obama to fail so they can regain some political power.
Until I am shown otherwise, that is how I see things. What is happening right now is nuts, and there simply is no comparison. Show me the tapes. Show me the transcripts. Show me Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid standing in front of a camera saying “I want President Bush to fail” just like we have seen Mike Pence and the parade of other Republican leaders do in the past few days. Bring it on, and I don’t mean some random jackass on the internet or some crazy tenured prof at a community college somewhere. I will admit my memory was wrong, but I want to see it, because I don’t remember it. And then when you are done, you can show me the video tapes or transcripts of all the Democrats groveling and begging for forgiveness at the feet of Michael Moore (who, by the way, is fat) after dissing him.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sullivan makes more good points on the implications of the torture memos

Just to recap: the last president believed that he had the inherent power to suspend both the First and the Fourth amendments, he had the power to seize anyone in the US or world, disappear and torture them, and ordered his legal goons to come up with patently absurd legal rationales for all of it. And much of official Washington carried on as normal - and those of us who actually stood up and opposed this were regarded as "hysterics".
Something is rotten in a country where this can happen with such impunity - and when, even now, highly regarded and respected journalists and commentators simply move on or roll their eyes or sigh world-weary sighs.
What we just lived through was an attack on the Constitution of the United States, conducted by the president and vice-president and an array of apparatchiks.
The theory undergirding it renders the entire constitution subject to one man's prerogative. The conservative blogosphere - who resolutely ignored this in deference to their Caesar - now bleats about Obama's alleged threat to the constitution!

Whole thing here:

The real amount of warning

Despite what you might believe from watching movies such as Deep Impact or Armageddon, we're not likely to have months or a year to prepare to take a catastrophic meteor impact.

As this story relates:
a sizable rock just flew by us this weekend.

If it had hit it would have been as big a blast as the famous 1908 event that flattened a Siberian forest. Now, the Earth is a big place and it's more likely than not that something like that would end up exploding over the ocean, a pole, the Sahara or Himalayas or Siberia again and not over India, coastal China, Paris or New York --but do we feel that lucky?

The story said that the rock flew by Monday and had been detected only Saturday! This suggests that, given the time needed to calculate trajectories and get the word out, average people would have had, at best, a little more than a day to get ready.

Larison on the hypocrites who spent years calling dissent unpatriotic

Opponents of the war did not wish for Bush to fail in matters related to national security, but rather wished for him not to make colossal blunders that would undermine national security, weaken and strain our military and needlessly compromise constitutional protections and the nation’s reputation. Indeed, one might go so far as to say that Bush’s critics on the war wished that he not embark on a course of action that was bound to fail on the administration’s own terms. When Mr. Bush ended his second term as a failed President, it was his supporters who continued to back him in every bad decision he made who had ensured that he failed. In other words, in resisting the policies the President wanted and implemented his critics were actually serving the President’s best interests, and he would have been wise to heed their warnings. Perhaps then he would not have left office as one of the most-loathed and discredited Presidents in history. Obviously, Limbaugh has never argued anything remotely like this, and even if he does mean something other than what he said his statement will not be received that way.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Rushpublican Party

When the head of the RNC feels it necessary to apologize to a talk-radio host you know that there's no self-respect left.

Folks, it's officially the Rushpublican Party now.

Comprehensive smackdown

DOJ link to discredited Yoo memos:

Good luck with that


But what about the rest of the party? Here’s the duel that Obama and Limbaugh are jointly arranging:
On the one side, the president of the United States: soft-spoken and conciliatory, never angry, always invoking the recession and its victims. This president invokes the language of “responsibility,” and in his own life seems to epitomize that ideal: He is physically honed and disciplined, his worst vice an occasional cigarette. He is at the same time an apparently devoted husband and father. Unsurprisingly, women voters trust and admire him.
And for the leader of the Republicans? A man who is aggressive and bombastic, cutting and sarcastic, who dismisses the concerned citizens in network news focus groups as “losers.” With his private plane and his cigars, his history of drug dependency and his personal bulk, not to mention his tangled marital history, Rush is a walking stereotype of self-indulgence – exactly the image that Barack Obama most wants to affix to our philosophy and our party. And we’re cooperating! Those images of crowds of CPACers cheering Rush’s every rancorous word – we’ll be seeing them rebroadcast for a long time.

But do the rest of us understand what we are doing to ourselves by accepting this leadership? Rush is to the Republicanism of the 2000s what Jesse Jackson was to the Democratic party in the 1980s. He plays an important role in our coalition, and of course he and his supporters have to be treated with respect. But he cannot be allowed to be the public face of the enterprise – and we have to find ways of assuring the public that he is just one Republican voice among many, and very far from the most important.

Update: Steele grovels to Rush:

Slate - Encyclopedia Baracktannica